Dancing to a Different Beat

By Lori Brandt

Irvine, Calif., August 14, 2007 -- What does a free-spirited dancer think when she looks at the confines of an office? In the case of Lauren Thompson, she sees an interesting place to stage a dance film.

Ben Raphael
Morning staff meeting

That’s why Calit2 became the set for the UC Irvine MFA dance student’s choreographic thesis, “9-5.” Thompson filmed her 30-minute, narrative dance-for-camera piece on the fourth floor of the high-tech building and then presented it on the first floor in early May along with a four-channel, wall-mounted video presentation and a photo exhibit.

“I wanted to put dance in a place where it doesn’t belong, and I liked the idea of shooting and premiering my film in the same location,” says Thompson. “I had this concept for a day at the office with an unusual group of co-workers.”

Atypical Workday

Some day, indeed. With a crazy mailroom guy, an erotic fantasy scene in the copy room, cubicle yoga and more, this day at the office unfolds to reveal Thompson’s edgy sense of humor. Quirky characters express themselves through dances, set to an eclectic score of music ranging from big band to electronic.

Genome Diagram
Cutting loose at lunch

“9-5” starts with a staff meeting – bored, sleepy employees sit listlessly around the conference table with notepads, donuts and coffee, while a boss drones on like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Two interns arrive and one of the office workers (Carlina Villaverde), is told to train them. Mail delivery is a lively swing dance to big band; lunchtime is a gloomy, sluggish modern dance solo set to electronic music.

The office nerd (Marc Sicignano) has a crush on workplace recluse (Courtney Zimmerman), leading to the copy room fantasy scene in which lingerie-clad women surround and tease him with a calculator and post-its, all to the beat of rock and roll. Meanwhile, the interns are inept and end up locked in the closet. The mailroom guy sneaks into the file room where he strips to his underwear. He obsessively flicks and licks voodoo dolls of his co-workers.

In the final scene, the boss leaves early and the whole office erupts into party mode. The receptionist pulls out the boom box and everyone dances. Marc works up the courage to ask Courtney for coffee. She agrees, and the wacky day ends on a happy note. 

Setting the Stage

The field of dance for camera, or dance film, is a growing art form, and UCI’s dance department is at the forefront of integrating technology with dance. With Calit2 as a research partner, it has developed a highly regarded program in dance media, using current digital media technology to augment and preserve dance practices.

“Choreography made specifically for the camera embraces film technology’s potential to transcend the ephemeral nature of a dance performance, creating new perspectives of bodies in motion,” explains John Crawford, UCI assistant professor of dance, and faculty advisor for students pursuing dance and technology research. “Lauren’s piece is a great example of the work being created by our dance media students.”

Thompson had been working in the Calit2 digital arts lab on projects with Crawford so she was familiar with the new building. For her choreographic thesis, she wanted to show a different way to look at something, like an office, and explore what could be done in that space. She served as producer, choreographer, writer, director, videographer, editor and sound designer.

“Lauren’s cast members were all talented dancers but most had very little experience with portraying characters on film,” Crawford says. “She shows her skill at directing by drawing out strong performances from each of them.”

Big Screen Dancing

Many of the dancers had never performed in an unusual setting before. “It is becoming more popular to stray from the stage and bring creative performances to various settings, making dance more accessible to people who may not want to attend stage performances,” says Zimmerman, a UCI graduate who plans to pursue a career as a professional dancer.

This is Thompson’s first 30-minute film. She’s produced shorter videos, notably “Racquetball” (four minutes), which was shown at the 2007 Newport Beach Film Festival in April and at new Slate, the fall UCI graduate choreography concert. 

Thompson started dancing as a young girl. She attended Orange County High School of the Arts, then went to college in New York to study dance. It is the choreographer in her that makes filming dance so attractive. “I like being able to choose what the audience sees in each frame,” says Thompson. “Creating dance on the stage gives you many options for creativity, but dance for the screen gives you another dimension where you can suspend time, combine images …perform ‘magic’ in a sense.”

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